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RP Siegel headshot

State of Alabama "Bans" Sustainable Development (aka "Agenda 21")

Words by RP Siegel

So, I guess this shows that we really don’t all want the same thing after all. Anyone who, like me, naively thought that we all wanted to find our way to a future where the air was still breathable, the water still drinkable, and the climate still livable are in for a surprise. The folks in Alabama have just passed a law that says quite clearly that they don’t want anything to do with sustainability. Though they might not have any problem with clean air and water and all that, it seems to be the planning for it that is the problem. Because planning, after all, is apparently what communists do.

Here is what the new law says:

The State of Alabama and all political subdivisions may not adopt or implement policy recommendations that deliberately or inadvertently infringe or restrict private property rights without due process, as may be required by policy recommendations originating in, or traceable to “Agenda 21,” adopted by the United Nations in 1992 at its Conference on Environment and Development or any other international law or ancillary plan of action that contravenes the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Alabama.

I bet you were surprised to learn that the folks in Alabama were so well informed that they actually followed the proceedings of the Conference on Environment and Development. Well, in fact they didn’t. What they do follow, apparently in large numbers is the Koch Brothers’ paid public relations organization, otherwise known as the Tea Party, which has made Agenda 21 a centerpiece of their outrage.

It turns out, according to these folks, that Agenda 21, also known as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, is part of a vast international conspiracy,  that is also known by other innocent sounding names such as sustainable development, smart growth, social justice, green energy, carbon free, and livable communities. I bet you thought that these were all good things. I know I did. But it turns out that they are all part of one big attempt to TAKE AWAY OUR FREEDOM!

I do have to give these folks credit for recognizing the fact that if the human race has any chance of surviving in anything close to its present form, things are going to have to change pretty dramatically. And being at the cutting edge of reactionary politics as they are, right along with Arizona, which has a similar bill ready to be voted on (against the protests of the mayor of Phoenix), they are going to do everything they possibly can to make sure that nothing changes.

So while all this brouhaha over Agenda 21, which has been brewing for quite a while now, makes for great sloganeering for these extremist groups, is there any truth to their claims?

At the risk of being struck down by lightning, I actually looked at the document itself and here is what I found (excerpt):

  • Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development.  They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

  • States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem.

  • The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.

I suspect it’s this last one that has folks riled up. We don’t like equity around here, especially the folks at the bottom. That seems to be a uniquely American phenomenon. It appears (video) that the concern is that planning groups, in an effort to comply with these principles, will exercise their right of eminent domain, a right which has always existed in this country, in the name of "equitably meeting developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations," and take away their property

The fact of the matter is that the world is changing and there is nothing that anyone in Alabama or any place else can do to stop it. They can drag their heels and try to behave like a separate entity, but it won’t do any good in the end. Because when things get bad enough, we’ll be glad to have any options at all, and we’re going to have to do what we have to do.

But the sooner we all recognize that we are all in this together, the less bad it has to get. That means all of you folks in Alabama too, because every time you start your car, it impacts someone in the Maldives, just inches above sea level who is about to lose all of his private property. And every time a new coal plant goes up in China (about once a week, now) because of all the stuff you are buying at WalMart, your lovely Gulf coast beaches just got a little narrower.

In the meantime, I urge you to read the 27 principles of this UN proposition and see for yourself if this is really anything more than a tempest in a teapot.

[Image credit: chadao: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

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RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel (1952-2021), was an author and inventor who shined a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work appeared in TriplePundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He was the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP was a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. RP passed away on September 30, 2021. We here at TriplePundit will always be grateful for his insight, wit and hard work.


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